Every year it seems like people are getting smarter than they were before. In high school my grade was always enrolled in more challenging classes than the year before us, while at the same time, the year below us was progressing even faster than we did. I always assumed that this was due to improved teaching abilities and better learning methods, thinking that it had nothing to do with actual intelligence. However, is it possible that the younger generations are actually evolving to become smarter than their predecessors? Or is it a phenomenon resulting from other confounding variables?
An article published in The Telegraph explains a phenomenon known as the “Flynn Effect” which has been being studied for more than thirty years. The Flynn effect was started by American scientist James Flynn in the 1980’s. He noticed that companies who routinely gave out IQ tests had to increase their difficulty every year in order to maintain their average score at 100. Does this mean that people are getting smarter every year? Or is the changing world making the outdated questions too easy? The Better Angels of our Nature, written by Steven Pinker, claims that this effect has been observed in more than thirty countries. IQ scores improve by an average of 3 points a decade, meaning an average teenager today would have an IQ score of 118 i the 1950’s. Clearly, the intelligence of generations is steadily increasing as time goes on.
Now the question is what has caused this change in intelligence. Could it be that as time progresses, humans brains evolve to become more intelligent? Or is there another confounding variable that improves mental health that didn’t exist decades ago. According to a study conducted by the University of Aberdeen, this increase in intelligence is most likely due to improved diets, health and modernization of society. The team looked at two groups of children; those who grew up before World War Two and those who were children during the war. What they found was that the children who grew up during the war were on average more intelligence than those born before it. What was different between these two groups? The more intelligent kids grew up eating more nutritious meals, less junk food and experienced more social change than those before them. After the war, their towns were modernized with improved schools and more political awareness. The team believes that their upbringing is what caused them to become more intelligent than the older generation. Instead of evolution, it was their improved lifestyles that ultimately led to their increased mental ability. Although this study only looks at one group of children there is clearly a trend occurring. What makes this study so convincing is that it cannot be due to reverse causation, and there is so much evidence than it is hard to say it is coincidence. Similar trends have been observed among societies for the past century.
The IQ gains experienced by the children of World War Two are not unique to their experience. Situations like these are believed to be what causes generations to become smarter every year. It is not due to evolution, instead, confounding variables such as improved diets and health, modernization of communities, and social awareness all lead to more intelligent generations. Data presented in these articles is enough to conclude that children are becoming smarter than older generations, not due to evolution, but as a result of a more intelligent society.